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NHL Off-Season Outlook: Nashville Predators

The Predators still have some valuable pieces, but will it be enough to cause some damage in 2022-23?
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This article is the latest in THN.com’s continuing analyses of off-season plans for each of the NHL”s teams. Today, we’re looking at the Nashville Predators.

2021-22 Record: 45-30-7
Finish In The Central Division: 5th
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $8.4 million
Restricted Free Agents: Yakov Trentin, F

What Nashville Has: One of the top three defensemen in the league today in Roman Josi; a freshly-signed star center in Filip Forsberg; an improved defense corps with the addition of veteran Ryan McDonough; a star goalie in his prime in Jusse Saros; and experienced, talented veterans in Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene.

What Nashville Needs: Continued production from their veterans at all positions; more goals from their second-line wings, and third-and-fourth-lines of forwards; ample salary cap space with which to use during the regular season.

What’s Realistic For Nashville Next Season: The Predators made the playoffs for the eighth straight year this past spring, but they were rubbed out in short order by their Central Division rivals and eventual Stanley Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche during a first-round sweep. It’s the fourth straight season they’ve failed to make it out of the first round, and in that four-year span, they have amassed just two wins in the opening round.

So, it’s a little odd to see Predators GM Preds GM David Poile bending over to keep his group together. Sure, he has superstar D-man Josi; and sure, Saros is a top-five in the league goalie; and yes, forwards Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene are capable top-two-lines talents. But Nashville has nowhere near the depth that the Avalanche have. Nashville has an above-average defense corps – especially after the recent acquisition of former Lightning and Rangers mainstay Ryan McDonagh – but they still don’t have an elite group of D-men like the Lightning and Avalanche do. There’s just a much steeper dropoff in skill in Nashville than there is in the true Cup frontrunners.

Poile still has nearly one-tenth of the salary cap’s upper limit to spend, but let’s not forget that the franchise is in the process of being sold, and that many organizations, when faced with new ownership, often pare down their staff. Nobody’s suggesting that Nashville is cutting corners, but Poile likely knows he can’t go to the very limit in the difficult battle to rise higher in the Central.

The problem for Nashville is that they’re in the higher-end of the mushy middle – not good enough to win a Cup, and not bad enough to land the best chances at a very high entry draft pick. I think Predators fans would still support the team if Poile tore it down and rebuilt the roster slowly but surely. There are no Cup guarantees with any route Poile chooses, but it feels like the Predators are one of the most conservative NHL franchises when it comes to roster turnover, and although you wouldn’t want to be what the Vegas Golden Knights have become in that aspect, you’d like to see more moves made to Nashville’s core.

Having the Predators play such a huge role in the Nashville sports scene is important if hockey is to grow in the southern U.S. The sport needs to stand on its own merits, championships aside, but who’s kidding who – a Cup victory would sure help a lot in the grassroots appreciation of the game. The most likely way to that goal is a painful rebuild, but it doesn’t seem as if management is ready to tear it all apart in the name of contending at a higher level down the road. That means there’s this relative inertia around the Preds, who shouldn’t be seen as anything other than first-round fodder until they prove otherwise.

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